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March is Women's History Month: A Timeline of Women's Disability Activism

Since March is Women's History Month, we felt it apropos to highlight women and their contributions to the disability rights movement. In 2017, Whitney Lew James of Texas Christian University compiled a timeline showcasing major women disability rights activists in the United States. Beginning with Elizabeth Packard's campaign for asylum inmate rights in 1869 and concluding with the recent women's Disability March on January 21, 2017, this timeline focuses on activism by women with disabilities for women with disabilities. From Ms. James' introduction: Physical, intellectual, and emotional difference is a fact of life. Whether the product of genetics, as with muscular dystrophy or down syndrome; illnesses, like multiple sclerosis or polio; life experience, such as injury or abuse; or simply the process of aging, every person will or has encountered disability. For this reason, disability scholars often argue that we are all temporarily able-bodied (TABs) and that the disabled community is the largest and most diverse minority in the world. In many ways, the experience of disability is something that unites us. However, due to cultural fear and misunderstanding, disability has historically been used to divide, discriminate, and oppress.

Screenshot of women's disability activism timeline

The history of disability activism is the topic of this timeline and project; in particular, I look at women's disability activists because women with disabilities are double subjugated due to their gender and ability making their lived experiences and their advocacy work more difficult to trace. Rejecting the notions that disabled individuals are less than, in need of cures and savior, and victims that should be pitied, the Women's Disability Activism timeline focuses on women with disabilities engaging in self- and communal-activism. While there is a complicated history of the non-disabled advocating on behalf of or with disabled communities, since the Independent Living Movement of the 1970s, disability activism has been driven by disabled activists. The Women's Disability Activism timeline seeks to expand our knowledge of women's disability activism by looking at key figures, their arguments for disability and women's rights, and the connections among activists. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE TIMELINE AND THE ARTICLE BY WHITNEY LEW JAMES.

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